Plan to privatize Augusta transit finalized

The Augusta Commission finalized plans to turn over management of Augusta Public Transit to a private company, marking the end of city employment for about 70 bus drivers and other transit personnel.

The commission also appeared to resolve an ongoing issue involving its meeting place by requesting a judge designate the municipal building as a "courthouse annex."

Kevin Adams, the founder of Mobility Transit, said bus employees should expect to see the firm's general manager at Augusta Public Transit by June 15 as Mobility begins a 45-day transition of the service. Riders should not expect any changes during the transition period, he said.

Under the terms of the agreement, most transit employees must be kept on with the company for the first two years of a five-year contract. The plan is supposed to save the city $400,000 a year from the $5 million cost of the service, which is only partially subsidized by bus fares.

In a 6-3 vote, the commission OK'd the agreement with Mobility. Commissioners Bill Lockett, Alvin Mason and Corey Johnson voted against it. Commissioner Johnny Hatney was absent.

Lockett reiterated concerns that the city really hadn't done enough in recent years to form an adequate basis for comparing savings. Johnson again cited Athens, Ga., as a city that later opted out of private bus management, asking why a consultant couldn't be used to improve the service in-house.

Commissioner Joe Bowles said the two-year guarantee for current employees "hamstrings" Mobility.

In other business, two commissioners who previously have objected to efforts to amend the charter or otherwise remedy a legal requirement that the commission meet monthly "at the courthouse" joined their counterparts in approving, 8-1, a motion asking a judge to designate the municipal building a "courthouse annex."

Johnson and Lockett joined six other commissioners in approving Commissioner Jerry Brigham's motion to ask Chief Superior Court Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet to supplement his previous order designating the new Augusta Judicial Building as "the courthouse" with an order designating the municipal building as an annex.

The measure, which Mason opposed, provides a suitable backup plan for occasional court overflow into a new commission chamber being designed, City Administrator Fred Russell said.

Taking place during the commission's first regular monthly meeting, the action comes just in time for the body to avoid being in conflict with the charter, said General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie.

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Augusta Municipal Golf Course

On Tuesday, the commission authorized “tasking” the administrator and the recreation department with negotiating a package deal involving Affiniti Partners, First Tee of Augusta and The Patch in Augusta LLC to manage the municipal golf course. The course, budgeted to turn a profit or at least break even, has shown annual losses of more than $100,000 for the past few years.

Russell has said he was not sure whether The Patch in Augusta LLC was interested in doing anything with the course besides the lease proposal the firm twice has submitted in response to  the city’s request for proposals.

Affiniti, which did not respond to the request for proposals but  wrote a study recommending  changes be made at the course, including that a management firm be hired, manages Forest Hills Golf Club.
– Susan McCord, staff writer